Threesomes involving Premier league footballers have been tabloid fodder for years. But a new book looks at how the macho, cossetted professional sports environment has created a horrific world where rape is a form of male bonding, writes Richard Fitzpatrick
In October 2010, Collingwood won the Australian Football League Grand Final. The team’s players hit the town to celebrate. In the early hours of the following morning, a young woman went back to the South Melbourne house of a guy called Nate Cooper who lived with his cousin and one of Collingwood’s players, John McCarthy.
The girl, who scored in the top 5% of the state in her final-year school exams, is given the name Sarah Wesley in Anna Krien’s award-winning book, Night Games: A Journey to the Dark Side of Sport. She had consensual sex with Cooper, but alleged “two to four other naked males in the room” then sexually assaulted her. She made complaints against McCarthy and another Collingwood player, Dayne Beams, who she said she was “compelled but not forced” to have sex with.
The police investigating the incident concluded they didn’t have enough evidence to press charges. Instead they laid charges for the alleged rape of the same girl in an alleyway close to the house shortly afterwards by another footballer, a lower league player who was a friend of Beams. He claimed the sex was consensual. The case went to court, but he was acquitted of six counts of rape and indecent assault.
The incidences of that night gripped the Australian sporting world and beyond. It involved a pattern of alleged behaviour known as “roasting” where players share “groupies”.
In the terminology of a gangbang, a woman is tossed around between teammates like a pig on a spit (she’s the meat, the players are the skewer). She’s used as a “vehicle for bonding”. Sexual conquest scores are kept between teammates. In this private code among players, writes Krien, “bonus” points are awarded if a woman is shared around.
Krien says there is a dangerous macho culture of humiliation that stalks certain professional team sports: “Men who use sport as power and people – teammates, fans, clubs, coaches, police, lawyers, journalists, groupies – let them do whatever they want,” she says. “This can result in a closely bonded group of immature men with a warped sense of entitlement and an inability to empathise with outsiders. A possible and disturbing consequence of this equation is gang rape – not that most of the men involved in some of the stories recounted in Night Games would even recognise their behaviour as gang rape.”
Krien interviewed one former Aussie Rules player, Tony Wilson, who told her about the “Camel Night” which was held at one of his old clubs. Each player and club official had to invite two women along who were not girlfriends or wives so they could be shared around without any fuss. It was a night when everyone got a “hump”.
“I hate to say it but I can’t say I was surprised by most of the stories I heard in relation to the off-field antics of players,” says Krien. “Sometimes this disturbed me – I felt like I ought to have been more shocked, more horrified but unfortunately much of it felt grossly familiar. After all this lack of respect and lack of language is not only found in encounters between celebrity footballers and women, tamer versions of these antics are instantly recognisable from one’s teenage years – but then, for the most part, the rest of us grew up. What often sets such a celebrity footballer apart is their arrested development.
“What did surprise me was the depth and breadth of yearning to be part of the team – what struck me as a sad schoolyard desire that had potential to be quite dangerous, particularly if the need to be ‘in’ with the ‘the boys’ got in the way of doing proper police work for example.
“In Night Games I cite a couple of Australian police investigations of rape that involved professional footballers in which the proper process was completely corrupted by star-struck cops.” The practice of “roasting” has become familiar to fans of professional team sports other than Aussie Rules, including rugby, American football and the English Premier League. The former Manchester City and Sheffield United player, Ched Evans, for example, served two years in prison for raping a 19-year-old girl in a Premier Inn hotel in Rhyl, a seaside resort town on the northeast coast of Wales. He was released last year. A brother and friend of Evans were outside the hotel bedroom trying to film the assault on their phones.
The co-defendant in the Evans case, Clayton McDonald, who played with Evans at Manchester City’s youth academy, was acquitted of his rape charges. In Krien’s book, which examines several high-profile cases of gang rape in professional sports, she teases out the notion of “a grey zone”, the ambiguous space between consent and rape. Sometimes a woman can feel raped when she hasn’t been, she writes in a nuanced section of her book.
Whoopi Goldberg, for instance, made headlines when defending Roman Polanski from extradition to the United States. The film director admitted he gave a 13-year-old girl drugs and champagne before having sex with her in 1977. Goldberg defended his actions in a 2009 TV debate: “I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else.” The actress’s stance was criticised. Krien has also got caught in some crossfire.
“Ah, the dreaded ‘grey zone’,” says Krien. “I’ve received a fair share of predictable flack for this discussion. It’s an understandable reaction considering women have been fighting for recognition and respect in the justice system for the past 40-odd years – wives, for example, were allowed to be raped by their husbands until quite recently! – so some feminists think the last conversation we need to have is about this idea of ‘a grey zone’, a murky place between rape and consent. But feminism isn’t that fragile and I think shutting down this conversation is damaging in that it is dismissing women’s actual experiences.
“At the moment, it is very difficult for a woman to reflect on a disturbing sexual encounter without feeling pressured to conclude there was a victim and a perpetrator, that it was rape or that they were to blame for bringing it on themselves. We lack a language to unpack disturbing and humiliating encounters, and because we lack this language, so many females cannot articulate themselves during the actual encounter and there’s this glacial space between a man’s action and a woman’s reaction. So many women I spoke to recall this kind of encounter in their life and often they have no intention of categorising it as rape – but it was something. It definitely wasn’t sex.” Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, disagrees with the notion of “a grey zone”, citing the example of a victim who is inebriated and unable to give their consent.
The judge at Evans’ trial clarified that the victim was drunk, stating: “The complainant was extremely intoxicated … She was in no condition to have sexual intercourse.”
“Irish law says you’re reckless if you’re having sex with somebody that you don’t know whether or not you have their consent,” says O’Malley-Dunlop. “The law is very clear. Sex without consent is rape. That is black and white.”
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour helpline is 1800 77 8888.
Anna Krien’s Night Games: A Journey to the Dark Side of Sport (€9.99) is published by Yellow Jersey Press.
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